The hearing will come to order. Good morning and thank you all for coming.
Today’s hearing continues this Committee’s strong oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This is the seventh in a series of oversight hearings that began in 1998 when Senator Inhofe was chairman of this Subcommittee. I thank the Chairman for his leadership on this issue as strong oversight of the NRC is critical to the welfare of the American public.
I am a strong advocate of nuclear power because it plays a critical role in meeting our nation’s energy, economic, and environmental needs. Ensuring that our nuclear power plants are safe and secure is absolutely essential if we plan to continue and hopefully increase our nation’s use of this valuable energy source.
This Committee is very busy on nuclear issues this year. In April, we held a nominations hearing where the Commission’s two newest members testified. I welcome you – Mr. Jaczko – back this morning and send my thoughts and prayers to Mr. Lyons and his family who could not be here due to a family medical issue.
I also welcome back Chairman Diaz and Commissioner McGaffigan who testified last week at our closed nuclear security hearing. I found that hearing to be extremely informative because it allowed us to have a frank discussion about nuclear security.
I am pleased with the Commission’s work on security enhancements, strengthened control access, and development of a supplemental design basis threat. These actions have increased the number of guards at power plants by 60 percent – from around 5,000 to around 8,000 guards – and required the nuclear industry to make physical improvements at every plant to a tune of $1.2 billion industry-wide.
We here in Congress now need to do our part. Chairman Inhofe and I have introduced S.864, the Nuclear Safety and Security Act of 2005, which includes provisions that the NRC has requested for many years on weapons, fingerprinting, and federal crimes. Since last week’s hearing focused solely on security, I encourage members and the witnesses to focus on non-security issues today.
Chairman Inhofe and I have also introduced the Nuclear Fees Reauthorization Act of 2005 (S.858) and the Price-Anderson Amendments Act of 2005 (S.865). I thank Senator Carper for cosponsoring these two pieces of legislation.
We need to address the current fee requirement, which must be reauthorized by September 20, 2005. If this fee requirement expires, the Commission will only be allowed to collect 33 percent of their fees from licensees with the remaining amount coming from the Treasury. S. 858 allows the Commission to continue to recover 90 percent of its costs through licensee fees.
This bill also contains several NRC reform and human capital provisions – many of which have passed this Committee and the Senate in the past. As the Commission’s workload increases over the next few years due to the next generation of nuclear power plants, re-licensing, increased security oversight, and Yucca Mountain activities, I am increasingly concerned about the availability of qualified personnel. Where are we going to find the necessary reactor engineers, shielding engineers, reactor and environmental health physicists, licensing specialists, etc? We learned at last week’s hearing that the Commission will be at least 300 personnel short in critical areas by 2007 and this does not even address the yearly attrition of 200 personnel.
S. 858 contains provisions to attract young technical college students via internships, co-op programs, and fellowships by providing incentives. It also allows the Commission to hire retirees as contractors, exempting them from the annuity reductions that would otherwise apply.
The third bill would reauthorize the Price-Anderson Act, which for 45 years has provided a framework of liability protection for the public should a nuclear accident occur. Given this proven record, I encourage my colleagues to renew the law as outlined in S. 865.
Several staff briefings have occurred on the issues addressed by these bills and bipartisan negotiations are occurring on a daily basis. I encourage members to let us know of any issues or concerns with these three pieces of legislation, as I understand that the Chairman intends to mark them up on June 8.
Finally, I thank the Commission for their focused scrutiny of the Davis-Besse nuclear plant over the past three years. Last week, the NRC terminated its special Oversight Panel which is a sign of the significant progress that the plant has made. I commend the NRC, the operator, and its employees for their hard work. However, I continue to expect that the lessons-leaned during their special reviews will be fully implemented not only at Davis-Besse but throughout the industry. With this in mind, I am concerned about recent developments at the Perry nuclear plant and look forward to discussing them with you today.
I thank everyone for attending this very important oversight hearing. The NRC and the industry must keep safety as the center of all that they do, and I will continue to conduct strong oversight as Chairman of this Subcommittee to make sure that remains the case. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass needed legislation early next month.